by Mark Towers
The fair was in town. In Elkton, Maryland to be precise. Kenny Landers was there every day of its three-day stay, intent on going on every ride three times, spending a whole month's allowance in the process.
By lunchtime of the third day he was down to his last five dollars and had achieved his triple-go target. Kenny was feeling pretty pleased with himself and, though he knew his stomach would hate him for it, he planned to spend his leftover cash on a burger and milk shake.
As he approached the burger van Kenny noticed a tent in the distance which had previously escaped his attention. He changed his leisurely stroll to a brisk stride past the burger van and straight to the lonely tent. There was no sign outside the tent to indicate its purpose and there was no one to ask. With a touch of trepidation, Kenny pulled the tent flaps aside and entered.
"Five dollars for the ride of your life" said a voice from behind him, and Kenny turned to see a burly skinhead blocking the exit.
"What is the ride?" Kenny asked, realising his fear was not misplaced.
"Five dollars for the ride of your life," the skinhead repeated.
"Erm, that's all I've got," Kenny said, but he was so intimidated he plucked the crumpled currency from his pocket and held it up. "Well I guess I could afford five bucks. Here." The proffered paper was snatched from Kenny's grip. "Now where's the ride?" Kenny asked.
"Stand in the middle of the tent, close your eyes and count to five."
Kenny was dubious about this, feeling he had been duped, but didn't argue with the physically threatening other. After counting under his breath Kenny opened his eyes. Nothing. Well, nothing different. Disappointed, Kenny walked out of the tent, his head bowed and gazing at his feet.
"Are you ready for that ride?" said an unfamiliar voice.
Kenny looked up and he was standing in the cockpit of a spaceship. "Where am I and who are you?" he asked.
"You are on the ride of your life, and I'm Thando, your guide. Now to your left you will see three wheels. Spin all of them"
As instructed Kenny spun the wheels, hard and fast.
"Ooh, good choice!" Thando leapt from his seat, clapping his hands repeatedly.
"What do you mean? What do these wheels do?"
"Tell me," said Kenny, exasperated.
"Okay. You've just set the co-ordinates for our next destination," Thando said. "Ah, we're there." Thando walked over to the control panel and pushed some buttons, grinning as he did so. "Look behind you."
Kenny turned to be greeted by a view from the top of the lunar crater. Turning back he realised Thando and the ship were no longer there. He was on the moon's surface, alone. Kenny walked along the crater ridge taking in his surroundings and pondering his predicament.
"It can't be real," Kenny muttered. "I'm able to breathe out here for one thing. I should be dead by now."
There was dryness in his throat and he was finding swallowing increasingly difficult. Kenny noticed the peppermint flavour of his gum was weakening. Gum? He didn't remember putting any in his mouth and peppermint wasn't his flavour. From his trouser pocket he removed a packet and read the ingredients. It was all scientific mumbo jumbo and the only thing he understood was the flavour, and that there was only one stick left. He was sure, if he could be sure of anything, he hadn't bought this packet at 7-Eleven. Kenny popped the last stick in his mouth and as he chewed the gum swallowing became easier. Bouncing along the lunar surface enabled Kenny to make quick progress, though he wasn't entirely sure where he was going.
Then he saw a scene of such spectacular beauty he could not conceive his being, never mind his doing or going. Painted on the black canvas, Earth captured and held his vision, for how long he could not say. Three hundred yards ahead were some remnants of the Apollo space missions, but Kenny could only look upon his distant home planet. He wanted to get nearer, to touch it, to dip his fingers in the cool, clear oceans. Kenny stepped forward and tumbled down into a crater.
As he dusted himself down Kenny found himself kneeling on the floor of the spaceship. Thando laughed raucously at Kenny, apparently all too aware of his unfortunate moonwalk.
Despite this Kenny said "Wow. That was awesome." Standing up, he continued to dust the lunar fragments off his clothing. Suddenly, his curiosity got the better of him and Kenny asked, "are you taking me home now?" After all, that must be five dollars worth.
Thando laughed again, but louder and longer. When he stopped his countenance rapidly changed, expressing the gravity of the situation.
"Kenny, you're being serious, aren't you?"
"But didn't the man at the fair explain?"
"He said it would be the ride of my life," Kenny said, his voice quivering more as each word came out.
"Exactly!" Thando exclaimed. "The ride of your life. This is the ride you will be taking for the rest of your life! A journey of unknown boundaries, a challenge to what mankind accepts as real and impossible. By chance you may spin the co-ordinates to land on the planet you came from. It happens! The man you paid your five dollars to, he was on this ride for 5000 years."
"What, the skinhead?"
"Not exactly. A Neolithic man. It took me a long time to train him to say those two sentences. The ship's computer selected his appearance to fit in with your society."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Nope. It's time to spin the wheel again, Kenny."
"No. You'll let me off this blasted ship now," Kenny said vehemently.
"I'm afraid the only way to get off is to spin the right co-ordinates for your home world."
Kenny didn't know what he could do. Attacking Thando wouldn't do him any good. He studied the wheels for a moment before spinning each in turn, mentally willing them to be the co-ordinates of Earth.
Thando chewed his bottom lip as he studied the readings on the control panel. "Well it's not Earth," Thando announced, "but I think you'll like it here."
Kenny frowned. "Where?"
"You'll find out in a moment. See you in five minutes."
"What do you expect for five dollars?"
Suddenly Kenny found the hot sands beneath were burning his naked feet.
Again he was alone on a desolate strange world, chewing another piece of
the peculiar peppermint flavoured gum. This time he did not know what planet
this was, and he hoped he would not have time to ask the alien creatures
who were rapidly approaching.
Mark Towers lives and works in Norwich, a city in the East of England. "Value for Money" is his first short story sale. Mark’s spare time is currently split between developing his website Majato, writing new stories, and making minor alterations to his first novel to get it into a publishable state (he hopes).
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"Value for Money" © Mark Towers. Used by permission
of the author.
Raven Electrick © Karen A. Romanko. Clipart by Corel®.